Column: More timely than ever to end animal cruelty

Recent undercover investigations of chicken slaughter plants in West Virginia and Maryland, along with the expos? of the largest kosher slaughterhouse in America, have consistently documented egregious animal cruelty, showing that abuse is the norm, not the exception, in today’s agribusiness.

The vast majority of animals raised for meat, eggs and milk are confined in industrialized “factory farms.” These animals experience joy, boredom and, most importantly, suffering. Yet most farmed animals are denied nearly everything natural to them, as they languish in cages, crates and pens; undergo painful mutilations without anesthesia; and die violently. Chickens raised for meat are bred and drugged to grow so quickly that their hearts, lungs and legs can’t keep up with the unnaturally rapid growth. They never have any contact with their mothers and are placed in sheds with thousands of other birds. After an industry average of only 45 days, the birds are sent to slaughter. Those who miss the killing blade are boiled alive in the scalding water of the feather-removal tank.

Egg-laying hens endure even greater suffering. To reduce the effects of stress-related aggression, un-anesthetized chicks have parts of their beaks burned off with a hot metal blade. So severely overcrowded in tiny, barren wire cages, the birds cannot even flap their wings. They never touch earth, roost, forage or perform most other natural behaviors. After a year, many are starved for up to two weeks to jolt their taxed bodies into a new egg-laying cycle.

While more than 95 percent of animals killed for food are birds, today’s farming also victimizes mammals. Mother pigs are caged in individual gestation crates so small they cannot turn around or move side-to-side more than a few inches. Pigs raised for meat have their tails cut off, parts of their teeth removed and are castrated, all without any painkillers. Cattle suffer similar mutilations, including dehorning and branding. These horrific abuses would outrage the nation were they forced upon the dogs and cats we love. But we don’t have to let the animal cruelty continue.

We can choose vegetarian foods. Indeed, there is no easier time to switch to a cruelty-free diet than today. Supermarkets and restaurants increasingly cater to the heart-healthy and animal-friendly consumer by offering mock meats and soy drinks. And bookstores and libraries carry hundreds of cookbooks specializing in vegetarian cuisine, which makes cooking at home simple.

And, as more studies show the positive health benefits of a vegetarian diet, it becomes clear that enjoying animal-free fare protects our own bodies. According to Dr. William Castelli, director of the Framingham Heart Study – the longest-running epidemiological study in medical history – vegetarians “have the lowest rates of coronary disease of any group in the country, a fraction of our heart attack rate and they have only 40 percent of our cancer rate.” The American Dietetic Association and Dieticians of Canada report, “Vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

The greater availability of vegetarian fare and the increasingly publicized health benefits make it timelier than ever to begin to remove our support for animal cruelty. Though the suffering we force on farmed animals upsets many of us, we should feel empowered knowing that we can each make a difference in their lives. By eating vegetarian foods, we can choose compassion and mercy over cruelty and suffering. The choice is ours to make.

-The writer, the outreach director for Compassion over Killing, is a GW alumnus.

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